Prompt #2: A Homeless man has a sign that says “Will work for food.” A passer-by has a devilish job for him to perform. Write the encounter.
….I had all sorts of interruptions last night and when I finally finished at midnight, my wifi was down. So, here is yesterday’s prompt which took off like crazy and will continue to come in snippets. Today’s prompt (Prompt #3) will come later this evening.
Will Work For Food
I had no premeditation of what I was going to do that day. I was simply going for a drive to clear my head, think things through. Something had to be done, but how to go about it without looking guilty or crazy myself. The tears came then so easily. Oh, Anne-Marie; Nine years, five months, and seventeen days of my life that I will never get back. Memories ripped through my head uninvited, leaving chaos and destruction in their wake. I was so wrapped up in my own anger and loss that I almost drove right past him without a second thought. Homeless bums panhandling in the median near my entrance ramp had become such a common site that I gave no more notice to them than I would a tree or a mailbox. Usually, they stand there, dead-eyed. Sometimes holding a sign explaining why you should help them out, sometimes sitting there just existing. If a zombie apocalypse ever occurred, I think we’d all be doomed, just assuming they are harmless hobo’s begging for cash, would be hard to tell the difference from what I’ve seen of zombies anyways. Pal, though, would not have been mistaken for a mindless cannibal. It was his frenzied, desperate insistence with the dirty-white sign he held that caught me off guard and I slowed instinctively.
The sign read ‘Will work for food’. He shook it at each car as it passed. The dirt on the poster board had obviously rubbed off his hands blackened with years of street filth. His clothes hung loosely on his hips and shoulders and they may very well have been the same clothes he was wearing back when he began life on the streets. An image flashed in my mind; Charles Manson being led to jail after the Tate-LaBianca murders. The unkempt hair and beard were the same, but as I came to a stop and he approached my car, I saw sanity in his eyes for the brief moment before he dropped them to focus on his feet. This man was for real. He wasn’t putting on an act for a little spending money. I lowered my windows and put my flashers on. He ducked his head to look into the passenger side.
“You looking for work?” I asked. It was a stupid question, as it was advertised in black and white but I had no experience with striking up a conversation with a homeless man.
“Yessir. Yes, I am. You got something I can do?” He sounded just as unsure as I was. I looked around, checking to see if we were garnering any unwanted attention.
“I might. Get in, I’ll buy you lunch and we’ll go someplace we can talk” I was trying to sound nonchalant as if I do this all the time. Instead I sounded like some creep they show on the late night Dateline shows where they bust pedophiles and prostitutes. He sensed the awkwardness and put his hands up, backing away from the window.
“Listen, Man, I’m not some crackhead. I’m looking for something legit. I can’t keep living this way. I just want a job that pays under the table until I can get back on my feet. I, uh, don’t do sex stuff for money.”
“No. No, me neither. I mean, that’s not at all what I had in mind. I’m sorry, I’ve never done this before, it’s just, the job I have to offer you, well, it’s embarrassing and I’d rather discuss the situation in private. So, let me buy you some food and we’ll talk.” I smiled reassuringly. I watched his shoulders relax as his hunger over-rode his hesitations and he got in the car. I hit a KFC drive-thru, ordered a 16 piece family meal complete with sides and biscuits, paid with cash and headed out to the lake where I used to take Anne-Marie when we were dating. She never wanted to put out, even then.
I let him fill up on cheap imitation comfort food and a six pack of Coors I’d brought from home, when my plans had been to drive out here alone. He slowed down significantly on his fourth piece of chicken, and looked at me expectantly.
“Guess we better get down to business” he said, wiping the grease off his lips with the back of his arm.
I took a deep breath. “I guess so. Let me start by telling you a little bit about me. My name is Cass Morgan. I’m an accountant in my father-in-law’s legal firm. I’ve been married for almost nine and a half years to my high school sweetheart, Anne-Marie. We never had children…I don’t know why…we just never did. Anyways, over the last year or so, my wife has been different, distant. She is a real estate agent, and so well, she gets a lot of calls, works odd hours and basically, I think she might be having an affair. I have no proof, just intuition. That’s where you come in.” I watched him closely looking for signs of disbelief or refusal. I saw none so I went on. “I mean, the problem is, her dad is a lawyer and my boss on top of that. Who can I hire that it wouldn’t get back to him and ultimately her, and if he got wind of it before I had proof, well, I’m sure he could work his legal magic to ensure I lose everything. What I need is proof, good solid evidence that she is cheating, then I go to her dad, show him what I got and he makes me an offer I can’t refuse. I go away quietly, taking the blame for a failed marriage and he gets his seat on the senate.” His eyebrows went up and I saw the cogs spinning behind those bright green eyes and shaggy bangs. “And of course, besides your daily rate, you would get a 5% cut of my consolation prize.”
“And what if you’re wrong?” he asked. Great question, I thought. The good news: he was obviously considering it seriously, the bad news: I hadn’t considered the ‘what if’. I took a deep breath in through my nose and blew it out, leaned back and looked up at the sky, letting the tears come again. “Oh how I wish I was wrong. I love her so much.” I choked back a sob. “We haven’t been intimate in months. I checked her cell phone, there is one number on it, well, let’s just say, if that’s a client, he’s been looking at a lot of houses over the last year. But if I’m wrong, by some great miracle, I’m wrong, you’ll get your bonus, it just won’t be as big.” He looked away, turning to the lake. I needed to bring him back in and fast. “Let me do some math for you, make your decision easier. If I am right, and Dad does what I think he will, five percent of ten million is…” I paused for effect, letting him try to work it out in his head, gauging his intellectual ability as well. When it was clear I was overtaxing his abilities, I answered “that would be $500,000 and”
“What if you’re wrong” he repeated warily, but clearly back in the game.
“Our ten year anniversary is coming up this year. Dad’s been mentioning it and I’ve been filling his head with ideas of trips around the world, maybe a foreign adoption—a senator should have grandchildren after all and a future presidential hopeful would certainly be celebrated for his family’s diversity. He knows how much over-seas adoptions can be. My guess is a 1 million anniversary gift, which gives you $50,000. Not too shabby for very little work, right?” I grabbed a biscuit and tore off a bite.
“What do I have to do?” He asked, eyeing the biscuit in my hand like a hungry dog waiting to snatch it at the first chance he got. I wasn’t 100 percent clear on the plan exactly; I needed time to think it through. As I said, when I left the house, I knew something had to be done but I hadn’t worked much out when the opportunity fell into my lap. My mind was working it all out as we spoke, it seemed full proof, but that was the mistake amateurs made, wasn’t it? Thinking they had everything covered.
“Tonight, all you need to do is check into the Motel 6 downtown, do you know it?” He nodded. “Get yourself some dinner, take a bath if you want, but don’t cut your hair, don’t do anything to make yourself more presentable. Order pizza delivery or something. Don’t go out flashing money looking like that. At lunchtime tomorrow, that’s 11:30, you be doing your usual outside of the Thompson-Baker Building on Fourth and Main, got it?” He sat up straight.
“Your Father-in-law Thomson or Baker?” He asked, now very interested.
“Thompson. Phil Thompson. You be there at 11:30, I usually come out at 11:45 for my lunch. You ask me to spare some change. I’ll hand you some cash. In the cash will be a note with further instructions and of course enough for lunch, dinner and another night at Chez We’ll Leave the Light On. If you aren’t there, I’ll assume you changed your mind and moved on. If that is the case, you will never try to contact me again, correct?” His recognition of my Father-in-law’s status had increased my confidence on our deal-making; I sounded less like the grieving husband and more like a gangster. I backed off a bit. “You understand my very difficult position, don’t you….I’m so sorry, I never got your name.”
“It’s Paul Addison, but everyone calls me Pal.” He said “Yep, I understand, alright. You gotta stay in tight with the in-laws, ‘specially if she is looking to replace you. Shame, if that’s so. You seem like a real nice guy, Mr. Morgan, a guy who loves his wife and is just tryin’ to do right by her. I’d like to help you out. Have a feelin’ I know what you’re gonna ask me to do, and it makes sense that we not be seen together ever. You go on and think on all the details. I appreciate what you done for me so far and I’ll be there tomorrow.” He wiped his hand on his filthy pants and held it out to me. I hid the distaste and shook it, surreptitiously copying his grooming habit on my own jeans. I pulled out my wallet and handed him two hundred bucks. Plenty. The most expensive room at Motel 6 was $109/night and while he might decide to spring for the jacuzzi room, I suspected he’d go cheap, pocketing as much as he could until he knew for sure what kind of income he could expect. He nodded and shoved it, crumpled and disarrayed into his chinos. “I’ll walk to the motel from here. Ain’t too far.” He glanced at the bucket still half full. “Mind if I take the rest?” He could take it all; in fact I preferred he did. I shoved everything back into the take out bag and shoved it at him. He stepped out of the car and walked off without looking back.
I sat, staring at the lake and then I started to laugh. Just a chuckle at first which quickly crescendoed into unapologetic guffaws. This was going to be easier than I could have ever imagined. So many things I had puzzled through lying awake at night, watching endless episodes of Cold Case and FBI files. Reading my forensic accounting textbooks when the answer was right there, every day, waving a sign at me. Now, I needed to be careful, meticulous in fact but I was an accountant, it came naturally. I drove home, hoping Anne-Marie would be out. I wanted to do some celebrating.
…To be cont.